International Orthodox Christian News

Metropolitan Council concludes 2009 Spring Meeting

SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications] -- From Wednesday, February 18 through Friday, February 20, 2009, the Metropolitan Council of the Orthodox Church in America held its 2009 spring meeting.

The Metropolitan Council is composed of the His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, chairman; the three statutory officers of the Church -- the Chancellor, the Secretary, and the Treasurer -- one priest and one layperson from each diocese, elected by their respective diocesan assemblies; and three priests and three laypeople elected by the All-American Council.

Earlier this year, the OCA Holy Synod of Bishops decided that the Lesser Synod of Bishops would also take part in Metropolitan Council meetings. Lesser Synod members present for the meeting were His Eminence, Archbishop Job of Chicago and the Midwest, and His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West. Also present was His Eminence, Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, who took the place of Lesser Synod member, His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate, who was unable to attend the meeting.

The meeting opened with a retreat Wednesday evening lead by Metropolitan Jonah in the Chancery's St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel. The theme of the retreat was "The Spiritual Process."

In his retreat talk, the Metropolitan said that the essence of the spiritual process is to overcome one's ego. "All of our thoughts about ourselves constitute our ego," he explained. "We live in our heads and we make the mistake that our ego is who we really are."

Metropolitan Jonah said that the teaching of the Orthodox Church is that true human identity is not found in the self but in God. Authentic human life may be found only through overcoming the passions -- distractions rooted in the obsessions and compulsions for things in the world -- and through the complete surrendering of human will to the divine will -- synergy. He offered a basic rule of life, grounded in the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church: do not resent, do not react, and keep inner stillness.

Following Metropolitan Jonah's presentation, the hierarchs and Metropolitan Council members discussed issues raised in his talk. An emphasis in this discussion was on the role that Church leadership will play in the ongoing healing and growth of the Church.

Thursday's sessions opened with a Divine Liturgy at St. Sergius Chapel, celebrated by Metropolitan Jonah. In his homily, he made reference to the Epistle reading of the day, which warned that, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?" (1 John 4:20). Metropolitan Jonah stressed that those in positions of leadership in the Church must always be on guard to carry out their responsibilities out of love and not animosity; animosity is not of God and therefore actions born of animosity cannot be said to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

After the Divine Liturgy, business sessions opened with an address by Metropolitan Jonah, who spoke about the vision of the local Church as outlined in Orthodox Tradition. He stressed that in the process of strategic planning, the basis for moving the Church forward must be the sacramental vision of Church that is essential to Orthodoxy. Related to this, he added, it is important to be mindful of the fact that the current OCA Statute, written almost 40 years ago, no longer reflects the structure and life of the Orthodox Church in America today as the local Church in North America.

The Metropolitan continued by outlining several areas that he identified as requiring the immediate attention of the OCA's administrative bodies: financial support for the Church, legal issues, St. Tikhon's Seminary and Monastery, and theological education.

Regarding financial support for the Church, Metropolitan Jonah said, "The task at hand is to strengthen the parishes and the dioceses, and encourage them to develop their own lives, ministries, outreach and missions within their territories. We need to have the Office of the Metropolitan, and its administrative functions. But the greatest need is to have our parishes and dioceses financially stable and supported." He also said that, "the Metropolitan Council must take the lead in this, not only by setting an example of tithing within their own communities, but by promoting the vision of percentage giving within their dioceses." His Beatitude noted that the real point of tithing is "an active, vibrant church on the local level."

On the topic of theological education, Metropolitan Jonah shared his vision of harmonizing institutions and programs to create "a single system of institutions which complement one another, and which conveys a single vision of the Church. My hope is that we can build the existing institutions into a single system of theological education, from the college-seminary level through the masters'-graduate level all the way to a Ph.D. in Theology."

His Beatitude's thoughts on the ecclesiological vision of Orthodox Church in America may be read here.

After the Metropolitan's address, the Council turned to a review of Metropolitan Council committees. The composition of current committees was examined with a goal of ensuring that every Metropolitan Council member sat on a committee. Furthermore, upon the recommendation of Metropolitan Jonah, the Council decided that each of its committees will include as non-voting liaisons one representative from the Lesser Synod and one from the Chancery administration.

In other discussions on committees, the Metropolitan Council decided to merge the finance and investment committees in order to improve operations between the Council's financial and investment operations and to assist the treasurer in his duties.

The Metropolitan Council is now engaged in a search for members of the OCA's Audit Committee. Previously, the OCA Statute directed that appointments to this committee be made by the All-American Council. However, at the 15th All-American Council in November 2008, a Statue amendment was passed that authorized the Metropolitan Council to make appointments to this committee.

Council members also heard reports from its committees on their ongoing work and from three members of the OCA chancery administrative team: Chancellor, Archpriest Alexander Garklavs; Secretary, Archpriest Eric G. Tosi; and the Director of Ministries and Communications, Archpriest Andrew Jarmus. The report of the Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, followed in a subsequent session.

One issue arising from the reports was the question of Church policies and procedures on sexual harassment, which are slated for revision in the near future. It was noted that the line of delineation between pastoral and legal aspects of such issues must be clearer. The definition of what is meant by "pastoral" needs to be clarified, as well, since this term can cover various aspects of such an issue. Likewise, it must always be known that there are legal ramifications in such matters and which cannot be neglected or denied.

In executive session, the Metropolitan Council reviewed ongoing legal matters facing the Church. Also in executive session, the Council heard an informational update on the review of the affairs at St. Tikhon's Seminary and Monastery that is being spearheaded by His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania.

The report of the Treasurer, Priest Michael Tassos, was made in conjunction with the report of the Metropolitan Council's Finance Committee Chair, Archpriest Matthew Tate.

Fr. Matthew introduced the report on finances by stating that, after three years of balanced budgets, 2008 was a failure. Through the first half of 2008, the budget was balanced; overages came through unexpected expenses in the second half of the year, in particular during the fourth quarter. He apologized on behalf of the finance committee for allowing this to happen. The projected overage for 2008 as a result of anticipated legal expenses was expected to be about $100,000.00. In reality, in 2008 the Church was over $200,000.00 over budget.

Fr. Tassos also expressed his personal regret at this situation. He noted that, while areas such as Chancery personnel salaries and benefits and departmental expenses were under budget, overages largely resulted from expenses that were not expected when the 2008 budget was passed, such as the enthronement of a new Metropolitan and travel costs related to committee work and extraordinary meetings.

In looking at the 2009 budget, Fr. Michael reported that cost-cutting measures include cuts to pension contributions for clergy working at the OCA chancery; a new, less expensive health insurance plan for all chancery staff; limits on the frequency in publication of "The Orthodox Church" magazine; and stricter procedures for the approval of travel expenses.

Fr. Matthew stressed that the real issue in 2008 was that the budget was used more as a list of suggestions rather than a strict guideline for spending. He emphasized that this cannot be the case. Absolute adherence to the budget and to procedures for requesting non-budgeted spending is crucial in order to regain and maintain a better financial status.

The final major agenda item was a discussion of the strategic planning process mandated by the 15th All-American Council in response to recommendations of the Special Investigating Committee. A report was presented by a three-person team organized by Metropolitan Jonah to offer ideas to the Holy Synod and Metropolitan Council on possible approaches to the strategic planning process. The members of this team were Protodeacon Peter Danilchik, Deacon John Zarras and Dr. Dmitri Solodow.

During the strategic planning presentation, it was noted that the key to a successful process is that it be based on principles of active leadership and oversight from the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council working in harmony; on an inclusive process that allows broad participation of all "stake holders;" on a decision making process based on consensus; and on the need for patience as the plan develops and is embraced by the Church at large. The next step in the formation of a strategic plan procedure will be further deliberations by the members of the Holy Synod, who will present the final outline of the planning process.

Official minutes and other information from the Spring 2009 meeting of the Metropolitan Council will be posted as they become available.

The next regular meeting of the Metropolitan Council will take place in the fall of this year.


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